Raam and Shyam are two college goers living in an average Indian city. Raam has represented his school, college and district in basketball. He is also in his college debating team, likes to read about and learn new things, and discuss relevant topics. His hobbies include reading, trekking, philately and playing the guitar. He also teaches poor children and holds workshops for avid trekkers. Shyam does not read anything beyond his textbooks or the page 3 news. His hobbies are limited to watching the latest Bollywood flick and frequenting various eateries with his friends. He has poor articulation, and he is hardly interested in knowing about new things.
Yet, for the neighbourhood, it is Shyam who is intelligent, and a role model for their children. Because Shyam had scored more marks in 10th and 12th standard board exams.
That is the synopsis of Indian education system and the mentality which it has spawned. It creates Shyams by quintals and megatons, and lauds their “achievements” at par with the invention of an alternate source of energy. The Raams on the other hand, are berated for being disinterested in studies and are goaded to follow the example of Shyams. As a result, all the Raams either live their life in a quality much lesser than what their worth is, or if they are lucky, get the opportunity to escape this dystopia to a better place where their individual worth is recognized.
Albert Einstein had said that if you judge a fish’s intelligence by its ability to climb trees then it will spend its whole life believing itself to be stupid. And this is what the education system in India is doing, declaring everyone stupid and making them stupid in the name of education, by having a couple of set parameters to gauge the intelligence of a student and branding him or her unfit, if he/she fails to meet the set criteria.
Talent in children has been limited to singing the latest Bollywood songs or dancing to the same and getting the most marks by mugging and vomiting the same on the answer sheet. Because basically we are a sick society that values shallowness over content.
When all the houses one sees have constantly squabbling parents, who only shut up during mealtimes, a father who salivates over some bimbo on screen, or a mother who devotedly watches mind-numbing serials and vulgar reality shows, where there are scores of tabloids and film magazines, but no book to be seen, then, in such homes, the child will only be a couch potato, who can’t add two and two without a calculator, and who can’t find France on a map. To expect some kind of prowess to be born in such a setting is like expecting a sow to give birth to a cub.
Where is our desire to make the next inventor, the next scientist, the next sportsperson (other than cricket), the next entrepreneur, the next artiste, the next leader? Nowhere. Because the education system atrophies our brains too much to think of anything beyond pettiness and mundane issues.
The basic problem with our education system is that intellect is determined by mugging up content and replicating the same instead of thinking of new ideas. What schools should kill is ignorance, doubt, inferiority complex and fear. But what they kill is curiosity and individual worth.
They are not the makers of tomorrow’s generation but the assembly line for producing trivia replicating robots. There is no scope for a child to learn anything that can open his/her mind, develop creativity in him/her, make him/her curious to go beyond the usual and test the limits of whatever has been taught.
The student is told again and again to “stick to the syllabus” and not to “use his head too much” as after all, it’s the exams that matter the most. Has anyone cared to ask what happens to all these toppers of board exams? How many of them become the demigods and saviours that this marklist-obsessed society makes them to be? Has anyone cared to notice as to why an overwhelming number of people who make it big weren’t exactly teacher’s pets? As the popular saying goes, the kids on the front row get to answer all the teacher’s questions because the back-benchers have more pressing issues to attend to.
A student who asks questions is considered a nuisance and shouted down, instead of being lauded. Teachers take it as an insult, instead of treating it as an opportunity to add value to their knowledge. But then, they themselves are by and large are the third products of the third rate system; and as a result, end up killing the best in children, including their thirst for knowledge and their self respect, by constantly berating them for one thing or another.
India being a country with a skewed set of priorities, major attention in initial stages of post independence was given in making higher education institutes while leaving a pittance for basic education. Teachers, the makers of tomorrow’s generation are paid a pittance, which ensures that nothing but the very incompetent are encouraged to take up this profession. The least is spent on elementary education, ensuring the worst quality in each and everything associated with it. The result? One-fourth of the population is unlettered, even after close to seven decades after independence, a fitting consequence of the unpardonable crime we have committed as a society.
A bad education system has, without any doubt, the worst possible textbooks.
What kind of scientific temperament can a science book arouse when it is limited to information presented in the dullest manner and banal experiments which will push a child further from the subject, instead of making him/her love it?
What kind of a calculative and analytical mind can a mathematics textbook develop when nothing is explained about how the x axis and y axis and trigonometric formulae are used in real life and has instead unrealistic examples like finding the volume of spheres, cylinders and other odd shapes, or buying fifty watermelons?
What kind of national pride is a student going to develop when the curriculum has history textbooks written by communists, which have pages and pages about Mughals and British Governor Generals but hardly a paragraph about Rana Pratap or Chhatrapati Shivaji?
The way languages like Sanskrit are taught by making students mug up grammatical intricacies instead of giving them ample examples from the scriptures makes them hate it and ridicule it. Ditto with English, with classical language given the preference instead of the practical, modern one.
Colleges continue this sorry story, by being a factory to manufacture the unemployed. The college curriculum is severely outdated like its school counterpart, and cannot put an ounce of employability into the students. So when they graduate, the students realize that what they have learnt is not worth two naya paisas (pennies) in the professional world. What made them the apple of their teachers’ eyes in schools or the most popular guy or girl in the colleges won’t make them even a day labourer in the real world.
They realize that they have been like Neo in the Matrix, who, on waking out of their stasis, have no Morpheus to guide them. They realize that they had been living a bubble-wrapped make-believe life, where everything is taken care of by their parents,, beyond which they had the least interest.
But bubbles burst more easily and sooner than anyone thinks. You see hundreds and hundreds of these hip youngsters everywhere who are emptily cruising around various malls or racing their bikes, who have nothing but emptiness to stare into. Except the very top institutes, most of B-school, engineering and technical graduates can hardly meet the criteria of their employers. We are conveniently ignoring what horrors lie in store for us. We pride ourselves so much on being an IT proficient country, conveniently forgetting that there is absolutely no new development or research of any IT related matter here. All that is done is repetitive work like coding. IT companies have only their marketing and back offices here, not Research & Development.
Sabir Bhatia made Hotmail, Vinod Dham Pentium chip, and Vinod Khosla co-founded Sun Microsystems, but they could never have done it had they been living in an environment like this.
The question is, are we encouraging free thought? Encouraging children to form their opinions through self-observations, instead of turning their brains into a DVD-R by burning pre-conceived archaic dogma into them? Are we teaching children to think, instead of telling them what to think? Are we teaching them that there is lot more to life instead of evaluating their entire being on the basis of a marksheet? Are we asking ourselves what good is the present education system if its products are happy to continue the same morally corrupt practices which make us an ill nation instead of wanting to end them?
Is it too much of a demand to ask for a curriculum which has something to do with real life instead of theory, which makes the students employable, short vocational courses instead of meaningless lengthy theories, and an environment which makes the students want to go to school instead of wanting to run away from there? Is it too much to ask for an educational system which instills moral values and national character in its students instead of superficiality? Is it too much to ask for a healthy environment in schools that aid both physical and mental development, instead of causing physical and mental degeneration?
No wonder then, that India has hardly made any new discoveries or inventions since its independence. Because great minds can never be produced in a rigid society where any new thought is frowned upon or discouraged. All that such a society can produce are mules with blinkers around their eyes who are sterile mentally. Great minds and a model society cannot be created in a place where memorization is valued more than imagination, and replication valued more than innovation. As long as we teach our children what to think instead of how to think, we will be nothing more than the world’s sweatshop where trained monkeys pride themselves for reinventing the wheel over and over again.